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The Skull Beneath The Skin (Cordelia Gray #2)

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  3,713 ratings  ·  166 reviews
Fading star Clarissa Lisle plans a spectacular comeback in a private performance of Webster' s bloodcurdling tragedy "The Duchess of Malfi," to be staged in an island castle owned by the eccentric collector Ambrose Gorringe. When she begins to receive poison-pen letters -- bearing death threats couched in Shakespearean quotations -- her husband hires young private detectiv ...more
Unknown Binding
Published November 5th 1992 by Penguin Books (first published 1982)
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mark monday
the novel appears to be PD James looking back at agatha christie by taking the basics of the classic murder mystery (an enclosed and gothic setting, a finite number of suspects, stylized characters)...and then updating it with all of the intricate details, narrative complexity, and emotionally nuanced characterizations of a later-period psychological thriller. the scene in question is wonderful - per the book jacket, a "fairy-tale castle on the sunlit island of Courcy". the often self-doubting b ...more
Madeline
I had never read anything by PD James, but she's been on my shortlist of authors-to-read for a while now. I think she first came onto my radar when I heard about her recent mystery, Death Comes to Pemberley (which did not particularly interest me itself, since not even a murder mystery could make me give a crap about the Bennett sisters), but she's been a prolific detective author for decades. This one, published in 1982, is obviously not one of her newer mysteries, but it caught my eye when I w ...more
Yngvild
The Skull Beneath the Skin looks back to the days when readers expected large dollops of philosophy and literary references along with their stories. This P D James novel contains references to John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (the play within a play), Nietzsche, Donne, Shakespeare, William Morris, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, E M Forster, Malory, Voltaire, Austen and Rattigan amongst others.
Bosola: Other sins only speak; murder shrieks out.
The element of water moistens the earth,
But bloo
...more
Debra
Private investigator Cordelia Gray has been hired by Sir George Ralston to accompany his wife, Clarissa, to Courcy Island, where Clarissa is to star in a play. Cordelia’s mission is to keep the persistent poison pen letters away from Clarissa. They’ve already caused one meltdown on stage and Sir George doesn’t want another. Protecting Clarissa from the letters is one thing, but protecting her from death is something else. When Clarissa is discovered murdered prior to the performance, Cordelia’s ...more
Katharine
The Skull Beneath the Skin is the last PD James I'm going to read for a while. I will say that this was a lot more fun to read than The Black Tower. I found Cordelia Gray to be a more sympathetic detective character than Dalgleish, and the plot followed a little more closely in the style of a classic English house-party murder.

The downfall of this one is that the theatrical setting is such a cliché, with the self-absorbed diva and her circle of followers – even to the mysterious and devoted f
...more
Mariano Hortal
Publicado en http://lecturaylocura.com/la-calavera...

La calavera bajo la piel de P.D James. El recuerdo a una gran dama del crimen

El pasado 27 de noviembre del 2014 nos dejó Phyllis Dorothy James, mundialmente conocida por P.D. James. La británica, nacida en Oxford en 1920, fue uno de los mejores exponentes del género policíaco. En casos como este, con una dilatada carrera por detrás, con una cantidad razonable de títulos entre los que escoger, al lector que no conoce al autor siempre se le plan
...more
Lora
As usual, there is a lot going on in this book besides the mystery itself. James is wonderful at drawing pictures with words, pictures that include the scenery and personality of not only people but inanimate objects.

Cordelia Gray has been hired as a bodyguard/personal assistant for a fading stage actress who has been receiving vaguely threatening letters for some time. She is due to perform in a private performance at the home of a friend of hers on an island off the coast of England. Essential
...more
PSmith
The second of the Cordelia Gray series by P D James, wherein Adam Dalgleish, her famous Inspector has only a passing mention. I liked the initial 3/4ths of the book – it was a very cozy read – a fading theatre artist who is giving a private performance at a remote island castle belonging to her friend. She is besieged by poisonous hate mails and is fearing her life, though no one believes that her life is in danger. Her current husband engages Cordelia Gray to be constantly with her and filter a ...more
Francoise
Inspired by the other Cordelia Grey mystery I listened to on tape, I checked out another. Cordelia came through with her calm, compentent and matter of fact approach to detection, permitting herself only a few moments of righteous anger when appropriate. The somewhat dissolute characters (both villains and regulars) go so far as to call her a prig. The somewhat curmudgeonly compentent police go so far as to order her out of the way. She questions her motives and wonders what to do, but shhe is d ...more
Ken Bickley
I seldom read two books back-to-back by the same author, but P. D. James is such a pleasure to read and since this second of her two Cordelia Gray mysteries was on hand, I went ahead with it. In this story, Cordelia, a private investigator, is asked to act as bodyguard for actress Clarissa Lisle by the husband of the actress. Someone is sending threatening notes to Clarissa, perhaps just to destroy her nerves before a stage performance. Or perhaps it's more serious. As always, the writing is ele ...more
Jim
I won't lie, this book irritated me. In it, Cordelia Gray is asked to investigate who is making threats to kill a famous (well B-list famous) actress. We travel to an island with Gray and said actress, watch said actress give the remaining characters in the book enough reason to kill her (if mysteries to be believed), and die. Gray then does her best to work out whodunnit.

The book irritated me no end. In and of itself it wasn't bad. It was just too damn similar to the only other Gray book out th
...more
Cheryl
This was a very compulsive read - at the end, the last 10th of the book. The rest was good and compelling but not compulsive.
from the jacket: Actress Clarissa Lisle was famous for her ravishing beauty - and her unscrupulous manipulations. Now o the death-shrouded island of Courcy, her schemes win her a starring role in a nightmare in which she can trust no one - not her deceived husband; her dangerously insecure stepson; her ominously genial host; her dependent, desperate cousin; or her cruelly
...more
Allison
I enjoyed reading this (on a plane ride) but was irked by two things: 1.) Cordelia was rather passive in her role as detective & didn't stand up for herself as much as I would have presumed she would & 2.) The reveal of 'whodunit' was anti-climatic to me. More of a, "Oh...that's it? That's all?"
Patricia Godfrey
I love pd james, and two years ago went to hear her speak about Death Comes to Pemberley, her imagined idea of life at the big house after the marriage of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. And then I got a look at the television adaptation of that book and my. My admiration for the 93 year old author grew. Whoever made that adaptation threw money and a fabulous cast at it.

I have a first American edition of The Skull Beneath the Skin, found at a library book sale, and had it up on the old and fabu
...more
Sharon Terry
I found this novel hard going at first, as I was used to the far more fast-paced approach of modern crime writers; however, it did eventually become quite absorbing. PD James seems to be a believer in "plot is character", because you tend to rifle through the suspects as you go, eliminating this one and that one on the basis of character, rather than alibi, means, motive, etc. It is basically a "cosy" - not too awfully gruesome, just a touch; a bunch of people in an enclosed environment; an unpl ...more
Margie
A bit of a far cry from her later books. The structure is there, but she makes some major leaps without bringing the reader along. Having read mostly her later books, this makes a nice contrast to see how she's grown as a writer.
Helen
I liked Cordelia Gray when I met her 40 years ago in "An Unsuitable Job for a Woman." And I continued to like her today as I met her again in "The Skull Beneath the Skin (love my library's $1 books)." James is an excellent writer, conveying her characters and their surroundings in evocative ways without extraneous adjectives cluttering the story (to my way of thinking, the more adjectives used to convey a mood, the less skilled the storyteller). The construction of the story, 10 people stuck tog ...more
Laura
PD James thriller with Greta Scacchi and John Moffatt.

An magnificent plot, as usual, by Dame James.
Jean-paul Audouy
Took a long time to take off but was worth the wait in the end.
Becky Rippel
I hadn't realized P.D. James had written anything but her Adam Dalgliesh mysteries until I discovered Cordelia Gray. I find her as interesting as Dalgliesh if not more so. This is the second in what I think is a four book series. A private detective, Gray is on the island of Courcy to protect actress Clarissa Lisle who has been receiving death threats. The focus of the weekend is the performance of 'The Duchess of Malfi' starring Lisle in her host's restored Victorian theater. I really enjoyed i ...more
Marge Rudman
Once again P.D. James has taken me on a little journey into England in the 1970's. Thanks to her wonderful descriptive powers, character development and fertile imagination, I just spent a fascinating - if a bit harrowing - 4 days on a fictional island in the Channel. If I want to know more about Cordelia Gray's career in the hands of James, I shall have to read the Dalgliesh novels in sequence and hope for some glimpses I suppose. That is exactly what i intend to do over the next several months ...more
Annie
Some people say that they never read a book twice; so many books, so little time, etc. Not for me. Once one of my professors said that the definition of a good book is one you can read multiple times and find something new about it each time.

The Cordelia Gray mysteries by P.D. James are good books. True, they are probably too atmospheric and pedantic to be a good book for all people, but they're good for me. I've never been able to find anything else quite like them, and unfortunately there are
...more
Julia
As much as I enjoy a good crime or mystery, I generally tend towards the cinematic or small screen versions as opposed to a good page turner. I was a bit apprehensive after starting this one because the opening absolutely did not grab me but seeing as it's a class text, I had to keep pushing through. What I did really like was the amount of back or pre-story there was before the actual crime took place. That allowed me to gain what information I could about the characters and their situations so ...more
Alex
It's hard to know precisely how to grade a novel such as The Skull Beneath The Skin. James takes much of what she learned from composing twenty years of crime fiction and transplants these lessons onto Cordelia Gray, who is simply not as robust a creation as Adam Dalgliesh.

What we get is a largely satisfactory composition that never quite gels, because Cordelia feels like more of a bystander than an active participant in the novel; she is on an island when bad things happen on that island, and
...more
Pattyrflg
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Quinn
This book was recommended to me in a very unusual way... I suspect by a friend who has not actually read this book yet. He said "You like Bertie and Wooster, this is a lot like it."

Well, I'm half-way through and it's a nice read... but it is NOT P.G.Wodehouse. I'm not normally a mystery guy, but the story is picking up and I don't know who 'done' it yet... but it's done been done. There are plenty of clues left about - now we just need to see if the clues get used, or if some magical external
...more
Mimi
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kristine
(NO SPOILER) P.D. James is a leading British crime writer first published in 1962 (COVER HER FACE) and who is best known for her Adam Dalgliesh detective fiction. This book, THE SKULL BENEATH THE SKIN, however, has only one mention of Dalgliesh; rather, the young Cordelia Gray is featured --in a second book. (The first Cordelia Gray mystery is An Unsuitable Job for a Woman -- which I have, unfortunately, not read.)

Cordelia Gray, detective, is hired to go undercover as a secretary/assistant for
...more
Luffy Monkey D.
These books that get 2 stars are beginning to have a particular feel to them. Professionally written but ultimately ill sustaining books that do enough but don't tell enough. I'm leaving the ultimate choice to fans who want to buy the second Cordelia Gray book. The first one was a real find. This one is not.

In the first book, the story was told from the young lady's eyes. Here, there's the laborious setting up of unlikely future suspects. They all seem sinister - yawn. However things picked up
...more
Pucifer
P.D. James is one of my favorite mystery writers. This novel is only one of two that feature private detective Cordelia Gray as the main protagonist. Perhaps this is because Gray, although an interesting character in her own right, is nevertheless not half as interesting as James' more famous creation, Adam Dagliesh, who investigates murders on behalf of New Scotland Yard and has starred in at least 14 of James' mystery novels. Perhaps the Cordelia Gray character is too vulnerable, too girlish, ...more
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English Mysteries...: (2) January 2013 - The Skull Beneath the Skin 10 79 Jan 25, 2013 06:56AM  
James 0 22 Apr 21, 2012 09:26AM  
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P. D. (Phyllis Dorothy) James was the author of twenty books, most of which have been filmed and broadcast on television in the United States and other countries. She spent thirty years in various departments of the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Department of Great Britain's Home Office. She served as a magistrate and as a governor of the BB
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More about P.D. James...

Other Books in the Series

Cordelia Gray (2 books)
  • An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (Cordelia Gray, #1)
Death Comes to Pemberley The Children of Men Cover Her Face (Adam Dalgliesh, #1) Shroud for a Nightingale (Adam Dalgliesh, #4) The Private Patient (Adam Dalgliesh, #14)

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